Navigating the Carer's Leave Act 2024: A Guide for UK HR Teams

Rachel Greenway
Last updated on March 21, 2024

Recently, the UK has made an effort to publish fairer, more inclusive workplace regulations. The Carer's Leave Regulations 2024 are part of this ongoing commitment. 

From the 6th of April 2024, this new legislation will come into force, offering employees the statutory right to one week of unpaid leave to care for a dependant.

While the Carer's Leave Act 2023 officially became law on the 24th of May, these regulations were drafted and presented to Parliament over the following months and come into force this new tax year. So, let's delve into what the Carer’s Act and regulations entail and their practical implications for UK employers.

What is the carer’s act in the UK? 

Let’s start by understanding what this new law is exactly. At its core, carer’s leave is designed to acknowledge and support employees with caring responsibilities. Carers are individuals who provide care to family members, friends, or neighbours suffering from physical or mental illness, disability, or the effects of old age. 

The policy framework encompasses various laws and guidelines aimed at safeguarding carers' rights, ensuring they can fulfil their caring responsibilities without compromising their employment status or wellbeing. Ideally, carer's leave should be used for ‘long-term care needs’ such as dealing with an illness or injury (either physical or mental), a disability under the Equality Act of 2010 or issues related to ageing.

What are carers' rights in 2024?

Importantly, the leave is a ‘day one’ right. In other words, there’s no minimum amount of work an employee must complete to take advantage of this. 

Employers also can’t force employees to produce evidence to support this entitlement, which should make these kinds of sensitive conversations easier between managers and their direct reports.

Additionally, as an employer you can’t penalise an employee who chooses to make use of this law, once it comes into force. Dismissing an employee for any reason connected to the carer’s leave act is automatically counted as unfair. You also won’t be able to bar an employee from returning to the same job they were doing before they took this leave. 

On the flip side, employees are only entitled to a maximum of one week’s worth of leave (and this is unpaid). They cannot request more even if they have more than one dependant

Carer's act

What happens if my business doesn’t respect these rights? 

If your business doesn’t uphold these rights, or is unreasonable in any way, employees will be able to bring an employment tribunal claim. This is something no employer wants as these procedures can be dragged out, expensive and result in a declaration and award of compensation. 

This compensation will be whatever the tribunal deems ‘just and equitable’, and will factor in your behaviour as an employer and any loss your employee experiences as a result. 

Who can take carer's leave in the UK?

As you may have already guessed - your employees! Carer's Leave is available to any employee who is responsible for taking care of a dependant with long-term care needs. 

Here, the same definition is used for ‘dependant’ as the one used to determine the right to time off for dependants. It could be a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person who lives in the same household as the employee (though they cannot be a lodger, tenant, border or the employee of the caregiver). Put simply, the definition is a broad ‘catch all’ and extends to any person who ‘reasonably relies’ on your employee for care. 

Remember 💡

Care can take the form of supporting someone with physical or mental health issues, disabilities or facing challenges as they age.

What can the leave be used for?

As discussed before this type of leave should be used to deal with long-term care needs. That could include time off for attending medical appointments, managing emergency care situations, or simply providing companionship and support.

This focus on ‘long-term’ needs was deliberate as part of the government’s consultation, with policy-makers seeing short-term care needs in a different light and more appropriately covered by other types of leave like ‘time off for dependants’ or annual leave. 

Still, carer's leave can be used for a wide range of activities related to the care of a dependant. The flexibility of the UK carer’s act recognises the unpredictable nature of caring responsibilities and aims to accommodate the diverse needs of carers and their dependants.

How can carer's leave be taken in the UK?

The Carer's Leave Act 2024 allows employees to take leave in various ways, catering to the specific needs of their caring situation. 

This could be in the form of continuous leave, intermittent days off, or even flexible scheduling. The act provides a framework for employees and employers to discuss and agree upon the most suitable arrangement, ensuring that caring duties can be fulfilled without undue disruption to work commitments.

Employers should note that:

  • Employees who use this leave must take at minimum a half day of work at a time 

  • Leave days don’t need to be taken consecutively (for example, an employee could take five separate dates over a 12-month period)

  • Employees must provide notice, though it doesn’t have to be in writing. They should specify what days (or part of days) will be taken

  • This notice period should be twice the length of time as the leave being requested, or three days, whichever is longer, though

  • Employers can waive this notice requirement

Do employers have to agree to all leave requests?

While you aren’t allowed to deny an employee’s request for leave, you can ask to postpone it. You can do this if the leave would cause critical disruption to your business’s operations, but this must be reasonable. 

In this case, employers should write a written counter notice within seven days of the original request, which explains the reason for postponing their leave and the revised dates. You must allow your employees to take their requested leave within one month of this first request. 

Put simply, there needs to be a paper-trail as to what’s been changed and agreed so you and your employee stay on the same page.

What are the implications of the carer’s act for UK employers?

The introduction of the Carer's Leave Act 2024 brings several implications for employers. 

Firstly, it requires businesses to adapt their HR policies and practices to accommodate the new rights of carer employees. This includes updating leave policies, training management on the provisions of the act, and ensuring a supportive approach to employees' caring responsibilities. You might want to consider drafting a new policy altogether to help employees understand their rights and the practicalities of requesting this kind of leave. In addition to this, creating a ‘self-certification’ form for people to fill out can be helpful too. 

It’s a good idea to get ready for any operational impact, too. After all, many working people have caring responsibilities in the UK, so you could get several requests from within your workforce. Coming up with a system for sound record-keeping, and tracking the number of days off can help you manage this. You might also want to consider redistributing workloads or even exploring how flexible working arrangements could help support carer employees. While this may present challenges, it also offers an opportunity for your company to honour its commitment to employee wellbeing and foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.

Finally, you may want to consider if your organisation wants to enhance these rights by offering pay for some or all of this type of leave. You could also extend the amount of unpaid time off available. 

Legislation bytes ⚖️

It’s worth noting that if you do decide to offer employees the contractual right to carer’s leave, an employee can’t take advantage of both the occupational and statutory rights, they’ll want to choose whichever package is more favourable. That being said, the overall protection provided by the scheme always applies.

Think about how carer’s leave could impact your business 

The Carer's Leave Act 2024 is a significant step towards creating a more compassionate and supportive workplace environment in the UK. By understanding the implications of this act and taking proactive steps to support carer employees, businesses can not only ensure compliance but also enhance their reputation as an employer of choice.

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